Common access resources & sustainability
Common access resources
Common access, or common pool resources (CAR/CPR), are natural resources including forests and pastures, fisheries, oil and gas fields, national parks, grazing lands and irrigation systems, which are characterised by the difficulty of excluding people from using them. As a result of the inability to charge a price for their use, over-consumption, degradation and depletion of these resources is a likely outcome. Indeed, the use by one individual or group of the resource will mean that less of that resource is available for use by others. This distinguishes common access resources from pure public goods, which exhibit both non-excludability andnon-rivalry in consumption.
It is argued that the lack of a price mechanism for common access resources results in their overuse, depletion and degradation. The consequence of the actions of producers and consumers, who do not pay for the resources they use, creates a threat to sustainability and, therefore, the availability of common access resources for future generations.
The origin of the study of common access resources dates back to medieval land tenure in Europe, where herders were entitled to graze their cows on common parcels of land for free. The result was over-grazing and the degradation of the land. The problem was described and analysed by Garrett Hardin in his article 'The Tragedy of the Commons', which appeared in the Science journal in 1968. Hardin explained that it was in each herder's interest to put any additional cows he acquired onto the grazing land, even if the quality of the common was damaged for the whole community. This was considered to be a rational economic decision by the individual herder, because each additional cow added to the individual's 'marginal utility', while the damage to the common land was shared by the entire group. However, the consequence of these individual rational economic decisions was market failure because these actions resulted in the degradation, depletion or even destruction of the resource to the detriment of all users and, therefore, society in general.